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October 24, 2008

Enceladus up close

Saturn's tiny, icy moon Enceladus has recently been visited by NASA's Cassini orbiter on several very close approaches - once coming within a mere 25 kilometers (15 miles) of the surface. Scientists are learning a great deal about this curious little moon. Only about 500 kilometers wide (310 miles), it is very active, emitting internal heat, churning its surface, and - through cryovolcanism - ejecting masses of microscopic ice particles into Saturnian orbit. Cassini has been orbiting Saturn for over 4 years now, and has provided some amazing views of tiny Enceladus, some collected here. Another close flyby is scheduled for Halloween, October 31st. (26 photos total)

Ring shadows line the face of distant Saturn, providing a backdrop for the brilliant, white sphere of Enceladus. This image looks toward the leading side of Enceladus. North is up. The image was taken in visible green light with the Cassini spacecraft narrow-angle camera on June 28, 2007. The view was acquired at a distance of approximately 291,000 kilometers (181,000 miles) from Enceladus. Image scale is 2 kilometers (1 mile) per pixel. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

The tortured surface of Saturn's moon Enceladus and its fascinating ongoing geologic activity tell the story of the ancient and present struggles of one tiny world. The enhanced color view of Enceladus seen here is largely of the southern hemisphere. The south polar terrain is marked by a striking set of "blue" fractures and encircled by a conspicuous and continuous chain of folds and ridges. This mosaic was created from 21 false-color frames taken during the Cassini spacecraft's close approaches to Enceladus on March 9 and July 14, 2005. Images taken using filters sensitive to ultraviolet, visible and infrared light were combined to create the individual frames. (NASA/JPL-Caltech) #

The shadowed side of Enceladus, seen from 1.9 million kilometers away on September 15, 2006. The plume of microscopic ice particles being ejected from the surface of the moon is clearly visible isn the scattered sunlight. (NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute) #

This image, taken during Cassini's very close flyby of Enceladus on Aug. 11, 2008 captures a region near the Cairo Sulcus on Enceladus' south polar terrain that is littered with blocks of ice. The image was taken with the Cassini spacecraft narrow-angle camera from a distance of approximately 1,288 kilometers (800 miles) above the surface of Enceladus. Image scale is approximately 10 meters (33 feet) per pixel. (NASA/JPL-Caltech) #

The cratered limb of Enceladus, seen on March 12, 2008 from approximately 34,435 kilometers away. (NASA/JPL-Caltech) #

Sister Moons separated by rings and some distance. Saturn's rings cut across a scene ruled by Titan's globe-encircling haze, lit up by the distant Sun and interrupted only by the small, closer moon Enceladus. The scattered light around planet-sized Titan (5,150 kilometers, or 3,200 miles across) makes the moon's solid surface visible in silhouette, giant compared to Enceladus (505 kilometers, or 314 miles across). The image was taken in visible red light with the Cassini spacecraft narrow-angle camera on June 10, 2006 at a distance of approximately 3.9 million kilometers (2.4 million miles) from Enceladus and 5.3 million kilometers (3.3 million miles) from Titan. (NASA/JPL-Caltech) #

Enceladus seen high (in an orbit of about 237,378 kilometers or 147,500 miles) above Saturn's atmosphere on February 16, 2005. (NASA/JPL-Caltech) #

Icy surface jets hurl tiny particles of ice far into space above Enceladus, seen on November 27, 2005. (NASA/JPL-Caltech) #
This sequence of 12 frames was taken over a span of about 45 minutes on March 12, 2008. In that brief time, Cassini covered almost 40,000 kilometers in its approach to a flyby encounter with Enceladus. The overexposure and smearing of the images gives a hint of the raw speed involved - 14.4 km/sec (or 32,211 mph). Shortly after this sequence, at its closest, Casini approached within 52 km (32.3 miles) of the surface of Enceladus. (NASA/JPL-Caltech) #

Icy craters seen on the surface of Enceladus on March 12, 2008 from a distance of 31,856 kilometers. (NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute) #

This image was taken during Cassini's very close flyby of Enceladus on Aug. 11, 2008. Cairo Sulcus is crossing the southern part of the image. The terrain is littered with blocks of ice. The image was taken with the Cassini spacecraft narrow-angle camera on Aug. 11, 2008, a distance of approximately 2,446 kilometers (1,396 miles) above the surface of Enceladus. Image scale is approximately 18 meters (59 feet) per pixel. (NASA/JPL-Caltech) #

Enceladus seen lit by both the Sun and reflected sunlight from Saturn and its rings on March 22, 2006, from a distance of 1,303,447 kilometers. (NASA/JPL-Caltech) #

A single young crater dimples the rumpled surface of Enceladus in this image taken on March 12, 2008 from 30,136 kilometers away. (NASA/JPL-Caltech) #

The active surface jets on Enceladus collectively form a brilliant, extended plume that is made visible as sunlight scatters among the microscopic particles of ice. The plume is more easily seen with the Sun directly, or almost directly, behind Enceladus, as is the case here. The moon's surface is lit here by reflected light from Saturn. The image was taken in visible light with the Cassini spacecraft narrow-angle camera on Sept. 17, 2008. The view was obtained at a distance of approximately 235,000 kilometers (146,000 miles) from Enceladus, with a scale of 1 kilometer (0.6 mile) per pixel. (NASA/JPL-Caltech) #

During its very close flyby on March 9, 2005, the Cassini spacecraft captured this false-color view of Saturn's moon Enceladus, which shows the wide variety of this icy moon's geology. Subtle differences in color may indicate different ice properties, such as grain sizes, that will help unravel the sequence of geologic events leading to the current strange landscape. This false-color view is a composite of individual frames obtained using filters sensitive to green and infrared light. The view has been processed to accentuate subtle color differences. The atmosphere of Saturn forms the background of this scene (its color has been rendered gray to allow the moon to stand out). The Sun illuminates Enceladus from the left, leaving part of it in shadow and blocking out part of the view of Saturn. Resolution in the image is about 560 meters (1,800 feet) per pixel. (NASA/JPL-Caltech) #

The hazy atmosphere of massive Titan forms a crescent far in the distance behid tiny Endceladus on February 05, 2006. Enceladus lies approximately 4,126,232 kilometers away from Cassini in this image. (NASA/JPL-Caltech) #

This image was taken during Cassini's very close flyby of Enceladus on Aug. 11, 2008. Cairo Sulcus is shown crossing the lower left portion of the image. The image was taken with the Cassini spacecraft narrow-angle camera on Aug. 11, 2008, a distance of approximately 3,027 kilometers (1,881 miles) above the surface of Enceladus. Image scale is approximately 20 meters (66 feet) per pixel. (NASA/JPL-Caltech) #

A chain of fractured craters seen along the terminator on Enceladus on March 09, 2005. The camera was approximately 17,256 kilometers away. (NASA/JPL-Caltech) #

Cassini imaging scientists used views like this one to help them identify the source locations for individual jets spurting ice particles, water vapor and trace organic compounds from the surface of Saturn's moon Enceladus. Their study identifies eight source locations, all on the prominent tiger stripe fractures, or sulci, in the moon's south polar region. This false-color view was created by combining three clear filter images, then it was specially processed to enhance the individual jets that compose the plume. Some artifacts due to the processing are present in the image. The final product was colored as blue for dramatic effect. The images were acquired with the Cassini spacecraft narrow-angle camera on Nov. 27, 2005 at a distance of approximately 148,000 kilometers (92,000 miles) from Enceladus. (NASA/JPL-Caltech) #

A deep fractured canyon in the icy surface of Enceladus dominates this image, taken on October 09, 2008 from approximately 39,384 kilometers away. (NASA/JPL-Caltech) #

Enceladus hangs like a single bright pearl against the golden-brown canvas of Saturn and its icy rings. Visible on Saturn is the region where daylight gives way to dusk. Above, the rings throw thin shadows onto the planet. Images taken using red, green and blue spectral filters were combined to create this natural color view. The images were taken using the Cassini spacecraft wide-angle camera on Jan. 17, 2006 at a distance of approximately 200,000 kilometers (100,000 miles) from Enceladus. The image scale is 10 kilometers (6 miles) per pixel. (NASA/JPL-Caltech) #

At least two distinct jets are seen spraying a mist of fine particles from the south polar region of Enceladus. The particles in the plume scatter sunlight most effectively at high Sun-Enceladus-spacecraft angles, or phase angles, making the plumes appear bright. This image shows the night side of Saturn and the active moon against dark sky. Some smearing from overexposure is evident. The image was acquired in polarized green light with the Cassini spacecraft narrow-angle camera on May 4, 2006 at a distance of approximately 2.1 million kilometers (1.3 million miles) from Enceladus and 2.3 million kilometers (1.4 million miles) from Saturn. The image was taken at a Sun-Enceladus-spacecraft, or phase, angle of 159 degrees. Image scale is 13 kilometers (8 miles) per pixel. (NASA/JPL-Caltech) #

This image was taken during Cassini's very close flyby of Enceladus on Aug. 11, 2008, taken with the Cassini spacecraft narrow-angle camera on Aug. 11, 2008, a distance of approximately 4,742 kilometers (2,947 miles) above the surface of Enceladus. Image scale is approximately 30 meters (98 feet) per pixel. (NASA/JPL-Caltech) #

Wispy fingers of bright, icy material reach tens of thousands of kilometers outward from Saturn's moon Enceladus into the E ring, while the moon's active south polar jets continue to fire away. This never-before-seen structure is made visible with the sun almost directly behind the Saturn system from Cassini's vantage point. These features are very likely the result of particles injected into Saturn orbit by the Enceladus geysers: Those injected in the direction of the moon's orbital motion end up on larger, slower orbits and trail Enceladus in its orbit, and those injected into the opposite direction end up smaller, faster orbits and lead Enceladus. In addition, the configuration of wisps may hint at an interaction between Saturn's magnetosphere and the torrent of particles issuing from Enceladus. The view looks down onto Enceladus (505 kilometers, or 314 miles across) from about 15 degrees above the ringplane. Tethys (1,071 kilometers, or 665 miles across) is visible to the right of Enceladus. The image was taken in visible light with the Cassini spacecraft wide-angle camera on Sept. 15, 2006, at a distance of approximately 2.1 million kilometers (1.3 million miles) from Enceladus. Image scale is 128 kilometers (80 miles) per pixel. (NASA/JPL-Caltech) #

During its very close flyby of Enceladus on March 9, 2005, Cassini took high resolution images of the icy moon that are helping scientists interpret the complex topography of this intriguing little world. This scene is an icy landscape that has been scored by tectonic forces. Many of the craters in this terrain have been heavily modified, such as the 10-kilometer-wide (6-mile-wide) crater near the upper right that has prominent north-south fracturing along its northeastern slope. The image was taken in visible light with the narrow angle camera from a distance of about 11,900 kilometers (7,400 miles) from Enceladus. Pixel scale in the image is 70 meters (230 feet) per pixel. (NASA/JPL-Caltech) #

Ring shadows line the face of distant Saturn, providing a backdrop for Enceladus. This image looks toward the leading side of Enceladus. North is up. The image was taken in visible green light with the Cassini spacecraft narrow-angle camera on June 28, 2007. The view was acquired at a distance of approximately 281,539 kilometers from Enceladus. Image scale is 2 kilometers (1 mile) per pixel. (NASA/JPL-Caltech) #

 
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